The presence of John Kerry in Appleton and George W. Bush in Oshkosh this past week gave Lawrentians an incredible opportunity: to see both presidential candidates before an election. This hasn’t happened for a long time: it’s been 45 years since Vice President Richard Nixon and his Democratic rival John F. Kennedy visited Lawrence, and life at Lawrence since the 1960 presidential campaign has changed quite a bit.On Nov. 13, 1959, Professor Dan Taylor – then a mere freshman – crammed into the chapel to hear Nixon speak. He didn’t have a choice of going then: all freshmen were required to attend all convocations, and back then, there was one every week. The counselors – now called RLAs – perched on the upper deck of the chapel, looking down and checking to see that their young freshman were in attendance.
Nixon spoke on education, the superiority of the American educational system over the Soviet system, the need for allies to assist with foreign aid, and the problem of Red China, all while trying to win the vote of the Fox Valley. Nixon probably wasn’t too concerned with the student vote back then, as the voting age was still 21 in Wisconsin (as in most states). But in Taylor’s home state of Kentucky the voting age was only 18, and so Taylor was one of the few who cast a vote after seeing a presidential candidate in person.
Senior Margaret Carroll – now a trustee of the University — was not impressed with Nixon. A “Democrat to the core” to this day, there was little chance that tricky Dick would steal her vote. She was waiting to cast her first-ever vote for Kennedy, when one day the head of the Wisconsin Democratic Party called her. The muck-a-muck on the phone asked her if there were any “boys” she knew who could drive with Senator Kennedy around this congressional district; she responded that she was perfectly capable herself. And on Friday, March 11, 1960, Margie Carroll and three other Lawrentians went with Kennedy from Appleton to Clintonville, Shawano, the Keshena Indian Reservation, New London, and Neenah.
Kennedy wasn’t planning to come to Lawrence until Margie and her friends asked him to come. After working it into the schedule and getting everything ready at Lawrence, Kennedy gave a short speech from the alcove in Riverview Lounge (which is now the office of Paul Shrode, assistant dean for campus activities).
In the second row was Dan Taylor, this time listening of his own free will to the future president. Taylor was already hooked on politics and soaked up the experience: ever since the press printed “Dewey Defeats Truman,” he’d hardly missed an election. Taylor recalled that Kennedy was surrounded by local politicians and his security entourage, and that, “The Secret Service agents looked the same then as they do now; it’s amazing!”
Somewhere in the packed lounge was Minoo Adenwalla, a new professor just out of graduate school, and now professor emeritus of government. Adenwalla, who had “more enthusiasm and less judgment in those days,” heavily favored Kennedy. But as Kennedy spoke on dairy and agricultural policies, Adenwalla recalls hearing him chuckling: apparently dairy policy was not his forte. Months after Kennedy had left Appleton, Lawrence held a mock election. 76 percent of students who voted favored Nixon, while 66 percent of the voting faculty favored Kennedy.
What does this mean for Lawrentians today? Perhaps the best assessment is from Taylor, who notes that, at Lawrence, your vote counts: the (sometimes) politically volatile Fox Valley is the second-largest population center in Wisconsin, and without our support, neither candidate can win the state.
Taylor says that we “need to establish the habit of voting,” and hopes that the recent visits of Kerry and Bush will help get out the vote.
The visits of John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon were some of the most politically defining and memorable moments in the lives of Lawrentians who were here; hopefully, 45 years from now, our experiences this past week will have an equal importance to us.